If Only..., page 11
I look back over my shoulder as she pulls me into a room with thumping loud music, and as the bass makes me feel as if my heart is jumping right out of my chest, I can’t help but wonder what’s happening to the heart of the boy that I left behind in the changing room.
My thighs are burning, my back is aching and my lungs feel like they’re on fire. I cough and splutter my way through the last mile, but we eventually hit the eighteenth mile just before Tower Bridge. Aiden stops in front of me and turns to give me a high-five as I run across the pretend line he’s pointing to.
“Yes!” he shouts as our palms slap against each other. “We did it, Evie baby!”
It’s the furthest I’ve ever run in one go, and my body is really feeling it. “That was hard,” I say, puffing.
“I’m not surprised you thought it was hard. Have you seen the time we did it in?”
I didn’t dare look after the thirteenth mile. “No, what did we do?”
“Seven-and-a-half-minute miles,” he breathes.
I crouch over and rest my hands on my knees as I try to process what he’s just said. “Oh my god.”
He laughs and shows me his watch. “We’d do a marathon in just over three hours. That would be epic.”
“That’s amazing, but I think I pushed myself a bit too hard. I’m really hurting now,” I tell him.
“Do you need a rub-down?”
“I’d say yes if I didn’t think you were joking.”
“I’m not joking,” he says quickly. “I’ll rub you all night long, sweetheart. You know you just have to say the word.”
“Aiden . . .”
“Evie . . .”
I look up at him and shake my head as he steps towards me. “Look at you,” he says. “You still look fucking unbelievable even after an eighteen-mile run.” He touches the back of his hand against my forehead. “You’re not even that sweaty.” Aiden tips his bottle of water back, drinks some and then pours the rest all over his face. He shakes his head, flicking some of the water at me, and then he grips the back of my head and crushes his lips to mine.
It’s a sweaty, salty-tasting kiss and I’m fully aware of his facial hair the whole time, but something about the way he roughly pulled me to him and how he’s holding me now make me feel a pull of intense attraction toward Aiden. When he slips his hot tongue into my mouth, I melt into him and let the buzz of kissing someone new carry me with it.
He pulls away but leaves his hands in my hair. “I want you,” he says. “I’ve told you this more than once, but we don’t seem to be doing anything about it.”
“I’m not saying let’s get together and be a couple,” he says. “I’m going travelling and I don’t want anything serious before I go, because—let’s face it—I’m going to shag half of Australia while I’m there. But why not just one night? Let’s get it out of our system and we can go back to just being friends. In six months time, I’ll have forgotten who I have and haven’t shagged anyway.”
“Well, that’s an offer I can’t refuse.”
“Now what have I told you about your sarcastic mouth, Evie Romano?”
I roll my eyes at him. “If I agree to just one night, it makes me feel like a prostitute.”
“Don’t be soft,” he says quickly. “We’re just shagging. We can go out and pretend we’re strangers meeting in a bar and agreeing to a one-night stand if you prefer?”
I give him the stare. “Let’s just agree to go on a date for a night,” I say.
“And see what happens?” he suggests.
I shrug and nod at the same time. “I guess.”
He smiles. “I hope you don’t disappoint.”
“I hope you don’t get a limp dick,” I say, laughing. “I heard about what happened with Charlene.”
“I was hammered,” he says. “You try keeping a hard-on after sinking eight pints of Guinness.”
I laugh again and prod him in his ribs with my fingers. He responds by pouring water over my head and kissing me quickly on the forehead. His hand cheekily snakes down my back until he’s cupping my bum. “Such a fucking great arse,” he whispers against my skin as he squeezes it.
I smile as a cold breeze whips around us. “I have to get back,” I tell him. “Fabio and Lucca are ringing me tonight.”
“Okay,” he says, kissing me quickly on the lips once more before letting me go. “I’ll call you to sort out our date.”
When I turn around to walk away from him, I find Cole standing right behind me with a stunned look on his face. I stumble backwards, not expecting anyone to be so close to me, and feel Aiden’s hands around my shoulders. “Steady,” he says to me.
Cole stares at me with cold, hard eyes.
“Cole,” I whisper.
“Cole?” repeats Aiden.
“Aiden, this is Cole,” I say, not taking my eyes off him. Why do I feel like I’ve just been caught doing something I shouldn’t? “Cole, this is Aiden.”
Cole holds out his hand for Aiden to shake.
“The Cole?” Aiden asks as he moves to stand beside me. “The Cole from Newcastle, Cole? The Cole who killed your brother?”
I nod and turn to face him. “Yes.”
Aiden’s mouth drops open as he stares at me. His eyes finally move from my face to Cole’s outstretched hand, but he doesn’t shake it.
“Whatever,” mumbles Cole, pushing his hand into his trouser pocket. “Don’t be late to work tomorrow, Evie.”
I frown at him as he walks past me, but not before I see the anger dancing in his eyes and the scowl on his face. What the fuck has he got to be so annoyed about? “I’m never late,” I call out.
“You’re always fucking late,” he retorts before disappearing through the revolving glass doors of his hotel.
“You work with him?” Aiden asks, looking confused. “When were you going to tell me?”
My eyes open and I immediately know that it has snowed. The room has an eerie white glow about it, and there’s that magical silence you only ever get when there’s snow on the ground outside.
I push my arm out of the covers and pull Evie into me so her back is against my front. My chest feels cool against her warm skin, and the curve of her bum fits perfectly in the groove I’ve created by curling my legs under hers. She mumbles in her sleep as I place a gentle kiss to her shoulder.
“Are you awake?” I whisper.
“I am now,” she says grumpily.
I smile and kiss all the way down her spine. “Good. Merry Christmas.”
“What time is it?”
“No idea,” I say.
She leans out of the bed and pulls her watch towards her. “It’s only six in the morning,” she complains. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I had a kinky dream,” I say, brushing against the softness of her bum, “and I couldn’t go back to sleep. But then I had an amazing idea.”
“What sort of idea?” she says, grinding against me.
“I thought you could help to make my dream come true.”
She giggles into the pillow as her hand starts to creep along my thigh. “You’re such a cheeseball.”
“Evie! Cole! Wake up!” calls a deep voice that doesn’t sound familiar at all.
I bolt up in bed and start to pull my boxers on as I hear footsteps pounding up the stairs.
“You better not be bonking in there, because I’m coming in . . . three . . .”
“Shit,” I hiss.
Evie laughs and pulls her nightie down to her thighs.
“Two . . .”
“Who is that?” I ask, pulling a t-shirt over my head.
“One!” The door bangs open and there, wearing nothing but an apron with a naked, fat Santa on the front, is Evie’s older brother, Fabio. “Merry Christmas!” he says, waving a turkey baster in the air at us.
Evie bounds out of bed and runs across the room. She slams into him so hard that he stumbles back and has to grab onto the d
“I’ve missed you,” she says, squeezing him.
“Missed you too, little sis.” He rubs his hand through her hair as if she’s still five years old and then looks down at me and grins. “I hope Cole here wasn’t up to anything he shouldn’t have been.”
Evie turns slightly and catches my eye. “Of course not.”
Fabio wriggles a single dark eyebrow at me. “Then why is he sitting in the middle of your bed with a red face and a pillow over his lap?”
The turkey carcass is sat in the middle of the table staring at me. It feels like it’s taunting me, laughing at me for eating so much, because now I feel sick as a dog.
“That was amazing,” I say, pulling my cracker hat from off my head.
“I’m stuffed,” says Evie, patting her flat stomach. “Couldn’t eat another bite.”
Fabio walks into the room, still wearing his apron, with a flaming Christmas pudding on a tray. “Who wants pudding?”
“Ooh, me!” chirps Evie.
Mrs Romano is sitting at the head of the table with the biggest smile I’ve seen on her face since Roberto died. She’s done an incredible job with the food, and she even invited my foster parents over so we’ve all spent the day together.
The only person who doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself is Nico. He’s complained that he’s tired, that they’re working him all hours of the day and he needs a rest. On top of that, he has a game tomorrow, so he can’t even relax and enjoy himself today. I feel bad for him.
Fabio dishes out the pudding to everyone, even if they didn’t say they wanted any, and raises a glass of wine. “Merry Christmas, everyone,” he says.
“This is the fifth time he’s done this,” I whisper.
Evie smiles and picks up her spoon. “I think he’s drunk.”
I grin and shake my head as I tuck a spoonful of Christmas pudding into my mouth.
“What’s the plan for your birthday, Cole?” asks Mrs Romano. She glances at Joan and Simon, but they’re not looking at me.
“I don’t really think there is a plan,” I say. “It’s just a birthday.”
“Nonsense,” she says. “It’s your eighteenth. Let’s have a party!”
“We don’t have the room,” says Joan quickly, pushing her glasses up her nose.
“Or the money,” adds Simon.
“Well, I have both,” says Mrs Romano. “We can have it here, if neither of you mind.”
Simon nods at me and smiles. “If that’s what Cole would like, then it’s fine by us. Will you have enough time though? It’s only fifteen days away.”
“Plenty of time,” says Fabio. “Mum could organise a wedding in less time than that.” He beams proudly at Mrs Romano and then offers her a cracker.
“That’s sorted then,” says Simon. “Thank you very much, Olivia.”
Mrs Romano raises her glass. “Not a problem. Cole’s part of the family.”
“What is it about men?” Lorna asks with a huff.
There were only four women that signed up for the rafting—and Lorna and I are two of them. I only really know Lorna, but the four of us joined forces and snagged the back seats on the coach before any of the men got on.
“That’s a loaded question,” I say, “and one that has multiple answers.”
“Look at them,” she hisses, gesturing towards the front of the coach. “As soon as they get together, they form a weird sort of pack, and no matter how old they are, they act like dickhead seventeen-year-olds.” She shakes her head and scowls as they pass a carrier bag of beer cans around. “It’s half-ten in the morning and we’re going rafting down a huge, nasty fucking river. You’d think they’d avoid getting legless.”
I laugh and look toward the front of the bus to see where Cole is sitting, but I can’t see the top of his head over the seats.
When they start chanting and singing football songs, Lorna stands up. “Give it a rest, you bunch of moronic idiots,” she yells, but I can see her smiling. Half of them turn around and wave or give her the finger, while the rest of them ignore her and start singing even louder.
“Bunch of pricks,” she says, sitting back down.
The coach rumbles down a dirt path, and when a sign appears indicating that we’ve arrived, the men all start banging their empty beer cans together and clapping.
Lorna turns and rolls her eyes at me. “Someone is going to end up drowned,” she says. “And if it’s me—and it’s because one of these idiots did something wrong—I’m going to kill them.”
I don’t point out that she wouldn’t be able to kill them if she’d already drowned, but I get her point.
We file off the coach and I head straight to the office to inform the rafting people that we’ve arrived. I’m relieved to find that they’ve already got everything sorted out. The guy in charge tells me to direct the men to a rack where they can pick out wetsuits and then he points to the ladies’ rack and the changing rooms.
“We have to wear a wetsuit?” I ask.
The instructor turns to look at me and laughs. “What did you think you’d be wearing?”
“I don’t know,” I say quickly, feeling like an idiot. “Our sports stuff, I guess.”
He taps me on the head, which is the most condescending thing anyone has ever done to me. Lorna comes up behind me and laughs.
“Can we at least wear our bras underneath?” she asks.
“Not really,” he says. “Just knickers and a tank top or something. We can’t guarantee everything will stay dry.”
“Then what’s the point of wearing a suit?” I ask.
The guy just shrugs at me.
“This is a joke,” Lorna says. “What do we wear on our feet?”
After we’ve grumbled about it for five more minutes in the changing rooms and we’ve each squeezed ourselves into wetsuits, we all walk out, trying not to look at any of the guys.
I hear a wolf-whistle, and I immediately fold my arms to try and hide my nipples that are poking out.
“Looking slinky, Lorna,” calls out one of the guys from her desk at the office.
I keep my head down, not even bothering to look up to see who jeered at her.
“Shut it, Stuart,” she snaps. “At least I don’t look like I’ve shoved cat shit down my pants.”
I burst out laughing and quickly cover my mouth before any abuse gets thrown at me.
“Right, let’s split you lot up,” says the instructor. He looks down at his list and then back up at us. “We’ll have seven groups,” he says. Pointing at us girls, he adds, “You can each go in a different raft.”
“Why?” asks Lorna.
“Because you’re weaker than the guys, and we need strength to paddle us out of the current.”
“Yeah,” chimes Stuart. “You need a bit of muscle in your life, Lorna.”
She flips him the bird.
I stand next to the first raft that the instructor points to and wait until he’s ordered the men into their groups. To my dismay, I see he’s put Cole and Gerard in my raft. The other groups go off with their instructors and we’re told that we’ll all be doing different things for the next two hours. The instructor introduces himself as Steve and then tells us to pick up the raft because we’re going to carry it.
I move to the back, then wrap my hand around the rope and lift as we begin to trudge down a dirt path.
“We’ll just raft down the slower bit of river first,” Steve says. “And then we’ll play a little game.”
Game? On a bloody river?
I carry on walking while trying not to stare at Cole’s wetsuit-clad bum as he walks ahead of me.
“Evie,” calls the instructor when we get to the water. “You’d better come up to the front.”
I let go of the raft and move to the spot Steve is indicating—which just so happens to be right in front of Cole. “Why am I up here? I was quite happy at the back.”
“Dinky?” I repeat.
“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Little. Cute. That sort of dinky.”
Cole laughs behind me.
“I resent that,” I say.
Steve ignores me and starts to push the raft into the river. I shiver when the water goes over my feet and creeps up my legs.
“Right,” shouts Steve over the raging water, “everyone hop on.”
I jump over the side of the raft and scramble onto the front seat as the raft drifts towards the top of a thundering bit of the river.
“Hold on,” he says, and I do as he says as quickly as I can. “There are only two commands, really . . . paddle forward and paddle backward. I’ll do the steering.”
The raft starts to turn and the force of the current drowns out all thoughts as it starts to drag us towards a mini-waterfall.
“Paddle forward!” Steve shouts. I grab my oar and stick it in the water, moving my arms as quickly as I can. The front of the raft suddenly shoots into the air, and all I can see is the sky before it topples and plunges forward.
I feel my mouth drop open as the wind gushes past my face and through my hair. Spray from the water as the raft plops back down hits me square in the face, but I don’t have time to wipe it away as Steve starts to shout more commands. I have about two seconds to feel grateful that I’m at the front—so no one can see how terrified I am—before we’re being turned towards an even bigger drop.
“Backward!” I hear.
Just as I’ve stuck my paddle in the water, Steve starts to scream for us to hold on. I have no idea what’s happening as we get thrown forward. I’m slammed back and then I’m lurching forward again as my bum lifts right off the seat.
All at once, I feel nothing except weightlessness. The next thing I feel is bone-chilling cold. Freezing water surrounds me, and a current so strong I can barely kick my legs pulls and grabs at my ankles. I’m dragged sideways and then backwards and then sideways again until I finally break through the surface.
I look around, but none of the others are anywhere near me. I’m being pulled down the river by the current to a section of water that seems to be swirling around and around like a whirlpool.